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Guess that Grape


Photograph by Diablo Imaging

It’s one of the world’s great wine grapes—one of only three approved white varieties in the tightly regulated French Bordeaux region. It’s the main component of Chateau d’Yquem, the celebrated premier cru supérieur of Sauternes. Cuttings from that vineyard were planted in a particular California valley in the 1880s, and the resulting wines receive almost universal accolades from critics to this day. The grape? Semillon. The valley? Livermore, whose climate and 20- to 30-foot-deep gravel soil closely mirror Bordeaux.

Nick Liang, the beloved sommelier of Uncle Yu’s at the Vineyard in Livermore, draws on Semillon’s lush, light character to pair with the spice and big flavors of Chinese cuisine. He contrasts Semillon with better-known Sauvignon Blanc: “Semillon is creamier, rounder, with the perception of less acidity.” Why, then, isn’t Semillon better known? According to Liang, many of the grape’s best qualities are realized only through careful aging, an expensive process.

Maverick Lafayette winemakers Terry and Frances Leighton, proprietors of Kalin Cellars, release their Livermore Semillon five to 10 years after bottling—a nearly unheard-of interval for California white wines. Liang always offers a Kalin Semillon at Uncle Yu’s, calling it “perhaps the best-made Semillon in the entire New World.”

1997 Kalin Cellars Livermore Valley Semillon Wine advocate Robert Parker calls this wine “magnificent … still young and fresh at 10 years of age. A light gold color is accompanied by a waxy, honeyed nose, revealing hints of citrus oil, earth, and a touch of Thai lemongrass.”
1996 Kalin Cellars Livermore Valley Semillon Aromas of citrus, apricot, and nut oil are framed by resiny notes of eucalyptus and bay leaf, but the wine still possesses a creamy core.

1992 Kalin Cellars Livermore Valley Semillon Sixteen years of aging has only improved this slow-evolving wine. It gives a supple, honeyed feel in the mouth but still retains a tight structure and herbal tones.

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